“Never Pay Back Evil for Evil”—Why Not?
WHAT a different world this would be if individuals, organizations and nations heeded the inspired counsel: “Never pay back evil for evil”! But the sad fact is that today, more than ever before in human history, individuals, organizations and nations go counter to that wise advice.—Rom. 12:17, New English Bible.
What is all the destruction of property and the taking of lives almost daily in Northern Ireland by both Catholics and Protestants but a paying back evil for evil? What is all the bloodspilling strife between Israel and her neighbors but more of the same. When, in February of 1973, a passenger plane in the Middle East was forced down, killing 106 passengers, the offended nation vowed retaliation and sent war planes over the Mediterranean looking for a passenger plane from the offending nation to shoot down. And paying back evil for evil is also at the root of racial riots, industrial sabotage as well as strife within the family circle, which at times results not only in breaking up the family but in husbands shooting wives and wives shooting husbands.
Paying back evil for evil clearly is a manifestation of the ‘wisdom of this world.’ Thus the motto of the Royal Arms of Scotland reads (literally translated): “I render evil for evil to every man.” The world also has such sayings as “Revenge is sweet,” and “Sweet is revenge—especially to women.” A nursery rhyme puts it this way: “Tit for tat. You kill my dog, I kill your cat.” In times past many feuds, vendettas and duels were carried on in a determination to pay back evil for evil, especially in Corsica and Sicily, and in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Paying back evil for evil marks the tendency of a little child, and, unless corrected by discipline, it continues through life, getting worse with the years. Yes, because of inherited imperfection and selfishness the human tendency is to pay back evil for evil. Is a person treated with contempt? The tendency is to respond with contempt. If one is addressed in a harsh manner, the tendency of many is to respond with a harsh tone of voice. Is one pushed and shoved? The tendency is to push and shove in return. Stingy persons tend to make another stingy, and so on and on.
Yet it is all so very, very wrong. Why? Because it hurts both the one receiving the evil as well as the one paying back the evil. It merely makes matters worse, as can be seen from vendettas and feuds that have lasted for years and years. That is why divine wisdom counsels: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” Because another has made a mistake is no reason for us to make one, is it? To respond in kind is really the product of shallow thinking or not thinking at all, for we also read: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.”—Prov. 15:1; 19:11.
The Bible time and again counsels against this tendency to pay back evil for evil, no doubt because it is so strongly ingrained in human nature. Thus the Christians in Thessalonica were admonished: “See that no one renders injury for injury to anyone else, but always pursue what is good toward one another and to all others.” Certainly the apostle Paul must have felt strongly about it for him to write like that. And in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus counseled: “Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left.” Incidentally, these words of Jesus have been much misunderstood. Jesus was not here preaching pacifism. A slap was an insult, not an act of violence. Where a follower of Jesus Christ encounters actual violence, he neither retaliates nor asks for more but flees if that is possible; if not, he does what he can to protect himself.—1 Thess. 5:15; Matt. 5:39, New English Bible.
Not only is paying back evil for evil unwise, since it merely aggravates a bad situation, but it is also unloving. It could well be that the evil we received was committed unintentionally and due to a misunderstanding, an oversight or a slip of the tongue. Since any one of such things may well have been the cause, why not give the other party the benefit of the doubt, exercising self-control, resisting the impulse to retaliate, and proceeding as if nothing had happened? Does not God’s Word admonish us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do to others as we would have them do to us? Yes, it does, and it also tells us that ‘love keeps no account of the injury.’—Mark 12:31; Luke 6:31; 1 Cor. 13:4, 5.
Not only that, but more likely than not, the one committing the offense against us bore no ill will; it could just have been his thoughtless way of doing things, not singling us out in particular. But if we pay back the evil with evil, there is clearly ill will on our part. Because of this, the one paying back evil for evil may actually be morally more culpable and blameworthy than the first one.
And there is a yet more serious and powerful reason why we should not render evil for evil. In the context of that command, the apostle Paul goes on to say: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30) Viewed from this standpoint, to be paying back evil for evil is presumptuous; it is arrogating to oneself the position occupied by the Supreme Judge, Jehovah God. Christians are to leave both the judging and the punishing in God’s hands. Thus Jesus said: “Stop judging that you may not be judged.”—Matt. 7:1.
Truly God’s Word gives us fine counsel when it commands: “Never pay back evil for evil.” This is certainly the course that is the wisest, as well as the loving and right course.